UH emeritus professor elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
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Posted: May 4, 2007


HONOLULU — University of Hawaiʻi Emeritus Professor Klaus Wyrtki has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2007. He is among 227 scholars, scientists, artists, civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders who come from 27 states and 13 countries. Those represented in the Academy‘s selection this year include former Vice President Albert Gore; former Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt.

"Dr. Wyrtki‘s selection for this prestigious honor is a reminder of the world-class reputation of some of our outstanding faculty on the Mānoa campus," said Interim Chancellor Denise Konan.

Wyrtki was conferred University of Hawaiʻi Professor Emeritus in 1993 after having been a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for 29 years. He is most well-known for providing a key piece to the El Niņo puzzle that helped to forecast such events several months ahead. Wyrtki was the first to understand that ocean conditions more than 5,000 miles away in the far-western equatorial Pacific affect the ocean temperatures off the coast of Peru. There the unusually warm current that typically arrives around late December got its name El Nino. Wyrtki‘s unique ability to see such large-scale connections in the ocean was based on variations in sea level measurements.

Wyrtki obtained his PhD in 1950, in postwar Germany. His career as an oceanographer took him around the world to Indonesia (1954—1957), Monaco (where he lived next door to Winston Churchill), Australia (1958—1961) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego (1961—1964) before he joined the University of Hawaiʻi in 1964.

Among his many accomplishments, Wyrtki served as chairman of the North Pacific Experiment (NORPAX) from 1974 to 1980. During this time he organized the Hawaiʻi-Tahiti Shuttle, gathering important information on sea level variations and establishing a valuable climate dataset. He set up a worldwide network of tide gauges and began the University of Hawaiʻi Sea Level Center. The center continues to monitor large-scale changes in sea level and currents around the world and contributes essential data to climate research. Wyrtki also served as chairman of the IAPSO Committee on Climate Changes and the Ocean.

Wyrtki made many significant scientific contributions to physical oceanography, among them a theory of the thermohaline circulation, a theory of the layer of minimum oxygen, and detailed oceanographic work on circulations in the Indian and Pacific oceans. His Oceanographic Atlas of the International Indian Ocean Expedition continues to be an invaluable resource to scientists. In addition, his work on the Physical Oceanography of the Southeast Asian Waters spawned lasting interest in the climatically important Pacific-to-Indian Ocean flow through Indonesia.

Wyrtki‘s numerous awards include the UH Excellence in Research Award, the Rosenstiel Award, the Maurice Ewing medal from the American Geophysical Union, the Sverdrup Gold Medal from the American Meteorological Society, the Albert Defant Medal from the German Meteorological Society, the Prince Albert I Medal from the International Association of the Physical Sciences of the Ocean, and the Alexander Agassiz Medal from The National Academy of Sciences.

The Mānoa campus is also home to three distinguished scholars in the Arts and Sciences — Institute for Astronomy scientists George Herbig and David Jewett and American Studies visiting professor James Oliver Horton.

The Academy will welcome Wyrtki at its annual Induction Ceremony on October 6, at the Academy‘s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

About the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholar-patriots, the Academy has elected as Fellows and Foreign Honorary Members the finest minds and most influential leaders from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nineteenth, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the twentieth. The current membership includes more than 170 Nobel laureates and 50 Pulitzer Prize winners. An independent policy research center, the Academy undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on science and global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education.